Comedy is a beautiful, minimalist art form. All it takes is a mic and a human voice. I don’t know of any other species that do standup, but if kangaroos start doing standup, then I will change that last statement to say all you need is a mic and a kangaroo/human voice.
Because of this, it is as simple as getting up on stage and speaking your mind. Hate it or love it, anyone can do standup if you are near an open mic in your town. Most, if not all the comics at an open mic have day jobs. Even though, some of the greatest standup comedians of all time started before they were legal adults with any responsibility, most great standups start off start going up and telling dick and pussy jokes well after we hit puberty, and have to support ourselves with a day job.
Thus, many comics lead a much too vanilla 9-5 life when they start out.
Over the years, I have seen a recurring pattern with many people that try their hand at comedy. They usually either came from a funny family, or their background has injected a certain amount of “funny” into their DNA. This usually comes from life experiences that are extroverted in nature which molds them into the type of person that has the balls and the social acumen to get on stage in the first place and say some shit
So it got me thinking. What “normal people” careers prepare you well for standup? By normal people career, I mean any type of career that is NOT in the performing arts.
Here are three of them.
Sales is a broad category, so let’s break down what this career path really means and how it would thicken your skin for the stage.
For the purposes of this article, any sales job where which you are contacting strangers in some way shape or form leaves you vulnerable to rejection. This requires that you have to impress a prospect or group of prospects in order to make a sale. If Bob from Accounting at Depressed Workforce Corp. Can tell you to Fuck Off over the phone with no repercussions, the you’ve found the right type of sales! The more in-person interaction, the better. For example, a door to door Tupperware sales person would develop better skills for standup than someone who is only selling over the phone. And a person that is only selling over the phone would be way more prepared than someone that is just sending emails. The more you have to use your voice to convince a customer to buy your stuff, the better the job would be.
There are a couple of reasons why this career path is great for aspiring standups. First of all, if you can last more than a few years in sales and all the rejection and discomfort that it throws at you, then you have proven that you would have the grit to be a standup. Also, if you are really dedicated to sales, you might have cracked open a psychology book or two. The psychological aspect of sales is what makes good salespeople great ones. Figuring out why people buy, what personalities respond to certain types of sales pitches, what emotions that you need to use as anchors in order to motivate the prospect to buy (fear of missing out, reputation protection, aspiration to a promotion, etc.) are great exercises for applying psychology to sales. This is directly applicable to standup, in the sense that comics are constantly thinking about how their audience will react to certain language and vocal tonality. COnstructing a good joke or a story to optimize laughs per minute is similar to constructing a great sales pitch or presentation.
Applicable Skill: Getting a Reaction
In sales, you want the prospect to be engaged and listening intently to you because you have something valuable to say. Standup is no different. Great standups are not only the funniest people in the world, but they also have a message to convey that they care about. Carlin, Chappelle and all of the other great comics were also great thinkers and had strong, relevant opinions on society.
Don’t be preachy in sales, but definitely learn to sound like you believe in the product you are selling. A career in sales will help you hone this mental muscle of creatively conveying the value of a product.
Applicable Skill: Handling Objections <> Dealing with Hecklers
Handling objections in a big thing in sales. An objection is a statement or question from the customer wherein which they present an air of doubt or skepticism as to the value of your product. The better you handle each objection in sales, the higher the chance you will make the sale. The Pareto rule applies here – 20% of the total types of objections will make up 80% of the total objections you receive.
Heckles are similar. Throughout a collection of standup comedy shows, you will get at least a few jackasses in the crowd that will want some sort of attention, and they will shout during a show. It could be as harmless as a “Woooo!”, or it could be someone literally shouting, “You suck! You aren’t funny!” A standup should be prepared for heckles as a salesperson should be prepared to handle objections. The better your preparation, the better the chance you will win the crowd over and perform better.
Preparation for objections is similar to preparation for heckles. Over time, you start to notice certain patterns and hear the same objections/heckles over and over. It is your job as either a salesperson or a standup comedian to know how to handle them in the most optimal way.
2) Recruiting (Head Hunting)
Recruiting is similar in a sense to sales, in that you are getting rejected over and over. In this job market, people change companies much more frequently and it is a recruiter’s job to find these professionals with valuable skills and to convince those people of doing so. This requires a sales mentality, and creativity in your messaging when approaching and working with these professionals.
Although I have never been a recruiter, some of the recruiters I have met over the years have been some of the most charismatic people I know. They are also for some reason, more attractive than normal professionals. You could probably say this for sales professionals as well. These all bode well for standup. Charismatic, attractive people do well on stage.
More importantly, in recruiting you are constantly communicating with people, and gauging their feel. Recruiters have excellent communication skills because of this, which will translate on stage.
Recruiters usually make a decent living and there is usually always demand this type of job, especially in tech. If you find the right recruiting agency in the right job market, you could probably make close to 6 figures out of college. Also like sales, your schedule is a relatively flexible 9-5, which would also allow you to hit at least 1 open mic per day.
Applicable Skill: Qualifying Quickly
One of the things you will have to do as a recruiter is to qualify candidates quickly. This means you will have to understand if something is worth spending time to bring through the candidacy process for your company. Is this the right person with the right experience? Is this person just interviewing for practice? Am I wasting my time?
In standup, you’ll have to do that with jokes as well. Having a healthy skepticism for what jokes you are spending your time on is good. You don’t want to practice a joke that keeps failing for 6 months. That is a waste of your time. The same goes for wasting time on candidates that you know will not be a fit.
Everybody knows that kids can be shit heads. Many teachers have to deal with these little shit heads on a day to day basis, and it can take time, effort, and a lot of stress to persuade a group of unruly listeners that you have something valuable to say.
Standing in front of a group of children that are yelling mean things at you every day will help you to grow a thick skin and handle confrontation. The bad kids in the class are the hecklers of the group. Just like hecklers at a standup comedy show, kids need to be handled in a certain type of way.
Even if you teach good kids, you are public speaking each and every day. Teachers are more comfortable in front of a group of 20+ people. In the beginning stages of comedy, it is tough to build this muscle and really feels unnatural to stand at the center of attention. Teachers are more accustomed to this in general.
Also, teachers schedules are fantastic for standup. If you are efficient with grading papers and planning lessons, your day is done around 4 pm, which is perfect for hitting multiple mics per night. Not to mention, teachers get the summers off. That’s 2.5 months per year where you can throw yourself completely into standup! Not a bad way to spend the summer.
Applicable Skill: Winning over a crowd <> Winning over a classroom
As a teacher, some of your classes are going to be a raucous, trouble making bunch. Especially if they are hormonal teenagers, with all their pent up sexual frustration.
Thus, teachers need to be disciplined in holding their frame. They need to know how to react to students in order to command respect, and then how to deal with kids in the right way. When is it time to remove a student who is blurting out distracting, offensive things in the middle of the class?
This is similar to how comics deal with horrible crowds. As a comic, you’re going to get some hell gigs with some man-children (and some woman-children!) who think attending a comedy show is the appropriate time to get some attention with their disruptive heckles. Preparing for hecklers is similar in this way. You have to know the main heckles, and know how you will handle them in your own creative way. Some audiences should be kicked out of a show, as well. All these things draw similarities to dealing with bratty kids in a classroom.
Applicable Skill: Lesson Planning <> Preparing Bits/Sets
Before you get up on stage, you need to be prepared. Not only do you need to know what jokes you are prepared to tell for your 5-minute, 10-minute or 20-minute set, but you also need to read the room, know what type of audience you are dealing with, and come prepared to make the best of any room.
Teaching is similar to this in the sense that you are preparing in advance what you are going to teach. You have to know what type of class you are dealing with in terms of their learning style, the intelligence of the students, and how they might receive certain assignments or drills within the course you are preparing.